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New York Harbor, a geographic term, refers collectively to the rivers, bays, and tidal estuaries near the mouth of the Hudson River in the vicinity of New York Citymarker. This is sometimes construed in the sense "the ports of New York and New Jersey". More narrowly, the term occasionally refers only to "Upper New York Baymarker".


In the broad sense, the term includes the following bodies of water and their waterfronts:Upper New York Baymarker,Lower New York Bay,North Rivermarker (i.e., the lowest part of the Hudson River),East Rivermarker,Kill Van Kullmarker,Newark Baymarker,Arthur Killmarker,The Narrowsmarker,Jamaica Baymarker,Raritan Baymarker, andHarlem Rivermarker.This includes about , with over a of shoreline. At peak it contained of developed waterfront in 11 individual, active ports inManhattanmarker,Brooklynmarker,Queensmarker,the Bronxmarker,Staten Islandmarker,Perth Amboymarker,Elizabethmarker,Bayonnemarker,Newarkmarker,Jersey Citymarker,Hobokenmarker,Weehawkenmarker and Edgewatermarker.Although the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not include the term, New York Harbor has important historical, governmental, commercial, and ecological usages.

Harbor history

Before the Erie Canal

The aboriginal population of the seventeenth century New York Harbor, the Lenape, used the waterways for fishing and travel. In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano anchored in what is now called "The Narrows", the strait between Staten Islandmarker and Long Islandmarker, where he received a canoe party of Lenape. A party of his sailors may have taken on fresh water at a spring called "the watering place" on Staten Island -- a monument stands in a tiny park on the corner of Bay Street and Victory Boulevard at the approximate spot -- but Verrazzano's descriptions of the geography of the area are a bit ambiguous. It is fairly firmly held by historians that his ship anchored at the approximate location where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge touches down in Brooklyn today. He also observed what he believed to be a large freshwater lake to the north (apparently Upper New York Bay, also called New York Harbor). He apparently did not penetrate deeply enough into New York Harbor to observe the existence of the Hudson River." In 1609 Henry Hudson entered the Harbor and explored a stretch of the river that now bears his name.

In 1624 the first permanent European settlement was started on Governors Island, and eight years later in Brooklyn; soon these were connected by ferry operation.The colonial Dutch Director-General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, ordered construction of the first wharf on the Manhattanmarker bank of the lower East Rivermarker sheltered from winds and ice, which was completed late in 1648 and called Schreyers Hook Dock (near what is now Pearl and Broad Streets). This prepared New Yorkmarker as a leading port for the British colonies and then within the newly independent United States.In 1686 the British colonial officials gave the municipality control over the waterfront.

The Erie Canal and its consequences

In 1824 the first American drydock was completed on the East River.Because of its location and depth, the Port grew rapidly with the introduction of steamships; and then with the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal New York became the most important transshipping port between the Americanmarker interior and Europe as well as coastwise destinations.By about 1840, more passengers and a greater tonnage of cargo came through the port of New York than all other major harbors in the country combined and by 1900 it was one of the great international ports.The main immigrant port of entry at Ellis Islandmarker had 12 million arrivals from 1892 to 1954.

In 1870 the city established the Department of Docks to systematize waterfront development, with George B. McClellan as the first engineer in chief.

Before the major road improvements allowed efficient trucking, rail freight was ferried to Manhattan from New Jersey, meaning railroads had small fleets of towboats, barges, and 323 car floats, specially designed barges with rails so cars could be rolled on.New York subsidized this service which undercut rival ports.

[[Image:G2411 troopship convoy 1942.jpg|thumb|300px|left| Convoy out of Brooklynmarker, February 1942, probably bound for Belfastmarker.Photograph from a blimp from NAS Lakehurstmarker.]]

World War II and later

After the United States entered World War II, Operation Drumbeat set the top U-Boat aces loose against the merchant fleet in U.S. territorial waters in January 1942, starting the Second happy time. The U-Boat captains were able to silhouette target ships against the glow of city lights, and attacked with relative impunity, in spite of U.S. Naval concentrations within the Harbor. Casualties included the tankers Coimbria off Sandy Hook and Norness off Long Island. New York Harbor, as the major convoy embarkation point for the U.S., was effectively a staging area in the Second Battle of the Atlantic, with the U.S. Merchant Marine losses of 1 of 26 exceeding those of the other U.S. forces.

The Harbor reached its peak activity in March 1943, during World War II, with 543 ships at anchor, awaiting assignment to convoy or berthing (with as many as 425 seagoing vessel already at one of the 750 piers or docks). 1100 warehouses with nearly of enclosed space served freight along with 575 tugboats and 39 active shipyards (perhaps most importantly New York Naval Shipyardmarker founded 1801). With a staggering inventory of heavy equipment, this made New York Harbor the busiest in the world.


Nautically, the Harbor consists of a complex of about of shipping channels (requiring pilotage), as well as anchoragesmarker and port facilities, centered on Upper New York Baymarker.Larger vessels require tugboat assistance for the sharper channel turns, for example from Kill van Kull into Port Newark.The Harbor has the main entrance from the Atlantic Oceanmarker to the southeast, between the Rockaway Pointmarker and Sandy Hookmarker; it has another entrance via the Long Island Soundmarker from the northeast at the outlet of the East Rivermarker. The Harbor extends to the southwest to the mouth of the Raritan River, to the northwest at Port Newarkmarker and to the north to the George Washington Bridgemarker.Other vehicular routes across the Harbor include the PATH tunnelmarker and, lower down, the Verrazano Narrows Bridgemarker.


As the port facilities of New York and New Jersey it is the largest oil importing port and second largest container port in the nation.Although the phrase has always implied the commercial activity of the port of New York Citymarker, including the waterfronts of the five boroughs and nearby cities in New Jerseymarker, only since 1972 has this been formalized under a single bi-state Port Authority.Since the 1950s, the New York and Brooklyn commercial port has been almost completely eclipsed by the container ship facility at nearby Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminalmarker in Newark Baymarker, which is the largest such port on the Eastern Seaboard. The port has diminished in importance to passenger travel, but the Port Authority operates all three major airports in New York (La Guardia, 1939 and JFK/Idlewild, 1948) and Newark (1928).New York City is still serviced by several cruise lines, commuter ferries, and tourist excursion boats. Although most ferry service is private, the Staten Island Ferry is operated by the New York City Department of Transportation. Passenger ship facilities are New York Passenger Ship Terminalmarker, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminalmarker at Red Hookmarker, and MOTBY at Bayonnemarker

Channel maintenance

Responsibilities within the Harbor are divided among all levels of government, from municipal to federal. Port facilities are controlled by bi-state Port Authority, but actual channel depth control is under the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has been involved in the Harbor since about 1826 when Congress passed an omnibus rivers and harbors act.

The natural depth of New York Harbor is about , but it has been deepened over the years, to about controlling depth in 1880.By 1891 the Main Ship Channel was minimally . In 1914 Ambrose Channel became the main entrance to the Harbor, at deep and wide. During World War II the main channel was dredged to depth to accommodate larger ships up to Panamax size. Currently the Corps of Engineers is contracting out deepening to , to accommodate Post-Panamax container vessels, which can pass through the Suez Canalmarker.This has been a source of environmental concern along channels connecting the container facilities in Port Newark to the Atlantic. PCBs and other pollutants lay in a blanket just underneath the soil. In June 2009, the Bloomberg administration announced plans for 200,000 cubic yards of dredged PCBs to be "cleaned" and stored en masse at the site of the former Yankee Stadium, as well as at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.In many areas the sandy bottom has been excavated down to rock and now requires blasting. Dredging equipment then picks up the rock and disposes of it. At one point in 2005 there were 70 pieces of dredging equipment in the harbor working to deepen the harbor, the largest fleet of dredging equipment anywhere in the world. The work occasionally causes noise and vibration that can be felt by residents on Staten Islandmarker. Excavators alert residents when blasting is underway.

Safety and security

The Coast Guard deals with waterways management, including spills, vessel rescues, and counter-terrorism.Deterrence and investigation of criminal activity, especially relating to organized crime, is also the responsibility of the bi-state Waterfront Commission.The Commission was set up in 1953 (a year before the movie On the Waterfront), to combat labor racketeering. It is held that the Gambino crime family controlled the New York waterfront and the Genovese crime family controlled the New Jersey side.In 1984 the Teamsters local was put under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) trusteeship, and in 2005 a similar suit was brought against the International Longshoremen's Association local.

In March 2006, the Port passenger facility was to be transferred to Dubai Ports Worldmarker.There was considerable security controversy over the ownership by a foreign corporation, particularly Arabic, of a U.S. port operation, this in spite of the fact the current operator was the British based P&O Ports,and the fact that Orient Overseas Investment Limited, a company dominated by a Chinese Communist official, has the operating contract for Howland Hook Marine Terminalmarker.An additional concern is the U.S. Customs "green lane" program, in which trusted shippers have fewer containers inspected, providing easier access for contraband materiel.

Harbor ecology

A persistent misconception holds that the Harbor is largely devoid of marine life. In reality, it supports a great variety of thriving estuarine aquatic species.Indeed tidal flow can be felt as far north as Troymarker, over 150 miles north. The salt front (dilute salt water) can reach Poughkeepsiemarker in drought conditions.

The National Park Service now maintains the Statue of Libertymarker, Ellis Islandmarker, Governors Islandmarker, Castle Clintonmarker, Gateway National Recreation Area, and Grant's Tombmarker.

See also

New York Harbor, oil painting by George McCord (1848–1909)



  1. The New York Waterfront: Evolution and Building Culture of the Port and Harbor, edited by Kevin Bone, The Monacelli Press, 1997. (ISBN 1-885254-54-7}
  2. New York's Port, Beyond Dubai,Gotham Gazette March 2006.
  3. see also Maritime geography#Brown water
  4. The Erie Canal: A Brief History, New York State Canal Corporation (2001).
  5. Ellis Island History, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., 2000 (source NPS).
  6. *New York in the Forties, Andreas Feininger, Dover Books.(ISBN 0-486-23585-8)
  7. Lighterage Controversy,Louis L. Jaffe, Mercer Beasley Law Review, v. 2, no. 2, p.136-170, 1933.
  8. U.S. Merchant Marine in World War II, U.S. Maritime Service Veterans, 1998-2006.
  9. "Port in a Storm: The Port of New York in World War II", Joseph F. Meany Jr. & al.,NY State Museum, 1992-1998.
  10. Chapter 11, New York Harbor and Approaches, Coast Pilot 2, 35th Edition, 2006, Office of Coast Survey, NOAA.
  11. New York Harbor, NOAA Nautical chart 12327, Atlantic Coast charts online, Office of Coast Survey, NOAA.
  12. PANYNJ seaport facilities.
  13. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
  14. Guide to Civil Engineering Projects in and around New York City, Metropolitan Section, American Society of Engineers, 1997, available from ASCE Metropolitan Section.
  15. Controlling Depth Reports for navigation channels, USACE
  16. Chapter 3,River and Harbor Improvement, History of the Waterways of the Atlantic Coast of the United States, Publication Number NWS 83-10, January 1983, USACE.
  17. Interview with Kate Ascher on her book The Works: Anatomy of a City, in Gotham Gazette, Feb. 2006.
  18. Why Deepen the Port?, USACE.
  19. Dredging Fleet Deepening NY/NJ Harbor, PortViews, Vol. 2, No. 3 October 2003, PANYNJ.
  20. Dredging In New York Harbor -- Economy vs. Environment?, Gotham Gazette, April 2006.
  21. City Dumping Tons of Possibly Toxic Sludge in Parks, Elsewhere in City, the Village Voice, June 22, 2009
  22. * U.S. Coast Guard Sector New York Homepage.
  23. Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor (WCNYH).
  24. Watching the Waterfront, The New Yorker, June 19, 2006. ( synopsis).
  25. The RICO Trusteeships after Twenty Years, 2004, ABA, republished by Laborers for JUSTICE. US v. Local 560, et al.,Civil Action No. 82-689, US District of New Jersey, February 8, 1984.
  26. Fact Sheet on Acquisition of P&O Ports by DP World, American Association of Port Authorities, 2006.
  27. OOIL in Howland Hook NPR, March 1, 2006.
  28. The Docks of New York, The New Yorker, June 19, 2006.
  29. Hudson Estuary Basics Dept. of Environmental Conservation, NY State.
  30. National Parks of New York Harbor NPS.

Further reading

  • The Works: Anatomy of a City, Kate Ascher, researcher Wendy Marech, designer Alexander Isley Inc. Penguin Press, New York, 2005. (ISBN 1-59420-071-8)
  • The Rise of New York Port (1815-1860),Robert G. Albion with the collaboration of Jennie Barnes Pope, Northeastern University Press, 1967. (ISBN 0-7153-5196-6)
  • South Street: A Maritime History of New York, Richard McKay, 1934 and 1971. (ISBN 0-8383-1280-2)
  • Maritime History of New York, WPA Writers Project, 1941; reissued by Going Coastal, Inc. 2004. (ISBN 0972980318)
  • On the Waterfront, Malcolm Johnson, ("Crime on the Waterfront," New York Sun in 24 parts, 1948; Pulitzer Prize, 1949); additional material, Budd Schulberg; introduction, Haynes Johnson; Chamberlain Bros. 2005.(ISBN 1-59609-013-8)
  • Great Ships in New York Harbor: 175 Historic Photographs, 1935-2005, William H. Miller, Jr.,Dover Books.(ISBN 0-486-44609-3)
  • Operation Drumbeat, Micheal Gannon, Harper and Row, 1991.(ISBN 0-06-092088-2)

External links

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